+972-LUBP dialogue: Fostering people to people contact between Israel and Pakistan – by Dahlia Scheindlin

LUBP Editor’s note: +972 is a blog-based web magazine that is jointly owned by a group of journalists, bloggers and photographers whose goal is to provide fresh, original, on-the-ground reporting and analysis of events in Israel and Palestine. Not unlike LUBP, the +972 Magazine is committed to human rights and freedom of information, and opposes the occupation.

For the last few months, some of my LUBP colleagues and I have been in touch with +972 Magazine through Pakistan-Israel Peace Forum (Paul Rockower and Waleed Ziad) with a view to develop better understanding of each other’s society, people, media and issues of human rights and equality. As a part of our dialogue, we are pleased to publish an original post by Dahlia Scheindlin which highlights the importance of people to people contact between the two countries. Happy reading.

+972-LUBP dialogue: Fostering people to people contact between Israel and Pakistan

Pakistan and Israel are not exactly natural bedfellows. Yet underneath the veneer of political rejection, there has been mutual-interest based contact at the higher levels of politics and business over the decades.

What’s been missing is constructive contact at the level of regular people, which has a different dimension and a different set of interests.

As an Israeli who is committed to human rights and democracy, I want to explain why a relationship with Pakistani counterparts is of great interest to me.

Our societies have more in common than we may realize at first glance (here’s an excellent, if somewhat dated, summary of a few reasons why).

We both wrestle with dilemmas of a society facing a protracted conflict which has had an abiding influence over the national consciousness and a major impact on the social, economic, and psychological development of our relatively new states. We both face severe internal social divisions. We are threatened by theocratic forces encroaching on democratic principles, rights and freedoms; and nationalist attempts to marginalize or oppress minorities.

Those of us who believe that we must expose, critique and constructively address those difficulties in order to improve the countries we care so much about, often feel alone.

We may even be ostracized by large portions of our own communities on ideological grounds. We experience the tension of either arguing within our own societies, or keeping our silence about injustices, which inevitably burns inside. To find refuge and kindred spirits, we may look to the international community – but that can compounding accusations that we are elitist or disloyal. The other option is to huddle within ourselves and find pockets of the local like-minded people. That carries its own risk of parochialism and stagnation. I sometimes experience a loss of perspective within like-minded circles, a certain defensiveness about the uniqueness of our situation. If so many other peoples have suffered from ethno-national conflicts, at least we might learn from them.

These are some of the reasons we established +972 Magazine. We are a group of independent journalists and bloggers who came together to carry on debates in English. That helps both internationalize the conversation, while allowing Israelis and Palestinians to join in as well, with only a minor language hurdle. The content is free and accessible to all, and that’s because all of our writing is on a volunteer basis.

Here we have total license to speak our hearts and our minds. We try to provide accurate information about underreported aspects of the threats to democracy, human rights, and the fundamental mechanism that violates them – the occupation. The writers are free to write about anything, from any perspective, with no editorial constraints, although of course we do not tolerate outright racism or incitement, and oppose severely offensive historical comparison.

Over the course of two years, we hope that +972 Magazine has helped broaden the community of people with wide-ranging ideas, from the Jewish and Palestinian diasporas to policy circles, to regular people living their lives in this region. We sincerely hope to have strengthened the position of those who share our goal of strengthening democracy and human rights and resolving the conflict. We try to push boundaries and open up new direction of thinking through information and analysis that is not commonly provided by mainstream news.

My wish is for +972 to help release existing attitudes that are locked inside constraints of the current discourse, voice them and allow more people to speak their minds. Ultimately, I hope that even tiny steps, a blog, an article, or a sentence, contribute to a changed environment that will lead eventually to better policies.

I want readers everywhere to know that there are Israelis and Palestinians committed to the rights of one another, who respect the narrative, feelings and experience of the other even as we differ in our political opinions. And that we are all committed to changing the policies that violate such rights and narratives.

In my initial conversations with Pakistanis committed to similar values, facing their own struggles, I have been struck by the sheer physical risk they take to express such views. But I was also struck by the similarities of our underlying social and political dilemmas, although the manifestations are different. The understandings and common language from just a few conversations have shown me that we can learn from each other’s experiences – of shared dilemmas and possible solutions.

I believe our readers on +972 Magazine would benefit as much as I have from greater contact with Pakistani writers at LUBP who are committed to human rights. That’s why we are fostering this relationship, and I hope to host articles of interest from my colleagues here when possible.

About the author: Dahlia Scheindlin is a public opinion researcher, analyst and political consultant. She is a columnist at Jerusalem Report, blogger at +972 (972mag.com); also a visiting lecturer at Ben Gurion University.

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